26 January 2020

Best car ever


In 1972 I was in the first year of my first full-time job when my 1966 Ford began to sputter on the highway, then died and wouldn't restart.  I had it towed to a mechanic, who discovered that someone had poured sugar into my gas tank.  The cost to redrill the cylinders and clean the fuel system was more than the value of the car, so I sold it for basically scrap metal.

I had little savings and my salary was only $5,200/year, so I had to quickly find something cheap and reliable to get me to work.   I walked to a nearby Volkswagen dealership and was granted a loan to purchase their basic not-even-a-radio Beetle for IIRC less than $2,000.  As part of the deal, the salesperson taught me how to drive a stick shift.

That lemon yellow Beetle did its job for five years, never failing to get me where I needed to go.  When it came time to sell and I put the Polaroid above on the wall at my workplace, I discovered that people in Dallas, Texas weren't eager to buy a car with no air conditioning.  So I sold it to my mom up in Minnesota.  She drove it another 6-8 years from the distant western suburbs of Minneapolis to get to her downtown job as a burn unit nurse at the county hospital, including through every winter snowstorm.  She was so delighted with it that when she traded it in, she chose another Volkswagen.

I was reminded of this old VW when I encountered a Marketwatch article saying that the road to riches should be driven in a cheap car ("Buying new cars is like taking $40,000 and setting it on fire.")  I totally agree.

19 comments:

  1. i too learned to drive a stick in the dealer's parking lot!

    I-)

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  2. Shucks, both of my VW Bugs ('63 and '72) had no A/C, but we (family of 3) survived life in Texas. Having a radio helped some, though.

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  3. I'm still driving a seventeen year old Saturn Ion and plan to keep it for as long as possible. I took it to a mechanic last year for a wellness check up and everything was fine. I also learned to drive a stick in a VW.

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  4. My used '67 VW, SuperGerm, worked tirelessly for many years until totaled by an uninsured driver. I am not a natural mechanic, but with the help of a wonderful book, "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive," I did all my maintenance, tune-ups, rebuilt the carb, etc., and saved a bundle of money. Great car!

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  5. I learned to drive in a VW microbus. But the Beetle we had earlier, when I was a wee child, didn't even have a gas gauge. When you ran out of gas, you flipped a lever to the emergency reserve, then headed straight to a service station. I didn't realize that any Beetle ever had air conditioning.

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    1. Perhaps it wasn't available; I don't remember. I do remember sweating a lot driving in Dallas in the summer.

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  6. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/sugar-gas-tank/

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    1. Interesting. I know for a fact that sugar was poured in (and I know who did it), and it did grind to a stop. But maybe I was screwed by the Ford mechanic as well as the malefactor...

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    2. I think we're mostly talking about older cars with sugar in the gas tank. If you actually read the Snopes article, it doesn't mention pre-80s car engines at all.

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    3. Reader Just A Car Guy will know, if he sees this comment thread...

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    4. I personaly find snoopes highly misleading, they usually contradict themselves 3 pargraphs in or so. Reading the article all the way through, indeed they admit that "even though the sugar will not reach the engine in either syrup or solid state, it can clog the fuel filter or the fuel injectors, a circumstance which could stop a car. A little sugar in the tank could be dealt with by no more than having to change the fuel filter a few times, but a heavier sugaring would require the gas tank be removed from the car and dumped out"

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  7. I have a Ford Ranger with 100,000 Plus. Until I need a new transmission and or engine. I will Still Drive that truck

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  8. My first car too was a '72 Super Beetle (black), given as a graduation present in 1986 by my mother, who bought it at a yard sale from the parents of a drug dealer who had been sent to jail, so didn't need his car anymore. She paid $1000 and that car made it from southern IN to Boston and back several times before throwing a rod and finally dying. I loved that car

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  9. My first car was a '59 Beetle, then later had a Fastback. Did most of my own maintenance and tuneups with the help of the aforementioned "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" and a VW owner's maintenance club in Storrs Connecticut. Both cars were quirky but reliable. And tons of fun to drive. Wish I still had that '59 Beetle.

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  10. Back when I was about a sophomore (I think) in college, 1973 or '74, my brother and grandfather chipped in and bought a used beetle for my transportation. Loved the little thing and drove it for most of the semester that year. Oklahoma weather, heat and cold, no ac or radio. I was tougher back then. Unfortunately, they never bothered to tell me to check the oil occasionally and it had no gauge, of course. The inevitable happened and smoke and a failing engine on the highway outside of Moore, OK, on one of my trips home. I got it to the side of the road and started to walk to find a phone and call for help. A lovely couple in a pickup gave me a ride to a gas station and someone eventually rescued me. Thank God for kind strangers, to paraphrase. Why my family assumed I would know about the oil escapes me as I was never allowed to do work on cars or engines by virtue of being a girl. My father's dictum. I learned how and am a passable shade tree mechanic now, and I made sure my daughters learned how too, lol. Many years of helping my husband work on cars. My grandfather drove a little VW wagon (which I absolutely loved) and his sisters had a beetle for many years also. My mother and sister also had Rabbits for awhile, but they were always breaking down. I learned to drive stick in a Chevy Suburban, floor and column, so that was nothing once I figured out the gears. Have a minivan now, dogs and other things mean I need the room, and it's the easiest one for me to get in and out of.

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  11. I have owned 4 Beetles, my first was a 1969 that I bought in 1972. The next 3 were all 1972 bugs, the last of which I reluctantly parted with in 1983. I had one in Germany when I was in the service. 2 things I remember most about those cars:

    1. No A/C for sure, remember turning the fly window so that the air was directed at you? The real issue was the heat. Heat was just a rumor in those cars. A Pittsburgh winter was rough. My girlfriend and I used to put a blanket across our legs to keep warm and if you had 4 people in the car the inside of the windshield would sometimes frost up and need to be scraped. That girlfriend was the real deal, she stuck with me and that car through 2 tough winters and 2 summer road trips to Florida in a beetle. Maybe it was the car. When I got rid of that car, she was gone soon after.

    2. On the other hand, those cars were great in the snow, with the weight over the rear wheels and the short wheelbase. I put studded tires (remember those?) on them in the winter and easily tamed the snowy and hilly roads in Pittsburgh. A couple of heavy bags of salt in the "trunk" helped with steering in the snow as well.

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    1. I certainly remember what I called a "wing vent" window - not sure if it had a crank, or was just pushed open (I think the latter, after you unlatched a latch). IIRC, there was also a "rain gutter" above the windows, so that water wouldn't drip in from the sides.

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    2. Those window just had a latch, no crank. I forgot about that rain gutter. I had a roof rack on one of my beetles that attached to the gutter. That rack carried everything, bicycles, skis, backpacks, kayaks, coolers, even a canoe once. Don't forget the running boards! They were one of the first things to rust away from the salt on those Pittsburgh roads.

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  12. My first car was a 1966 Ford (mustang), also lemon-ish yellow like your Beetle. No a/c and I lived in Plano, TX at the time. It was HOT but I felt cool in the old Mustang. Sold the Mustang to our next door neighbor who was able to enjoy it for two brief months before he totaled it.

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